what is direct thermal printing

What Is Direct Thermal Printing?

When it comes to printing labels, there are various ways to do it. Direct thermal printing is one of the most popular printing processes that involves using a thermal print head to apply heat on a thermo-chromatic label. 

In this article, we will discuss what direct thermal printing is, its advantages, how long direct thermal labels last, and when it makes sense to use direct thermal labels.

So read on.

What Is Direct Thermal Printing?

During direct thermal printing, heat is applied to the printing material directly. Direct thermal printing does not involve the use of ribbons, toner, or ink. Instead, it uses heat-sensitive materials, such as direct thermal labels.

When the label comes in contact with heat, it changes its color. The heated areas then react to form the desired text or image. You can even produce two-color text or images with a direct thermal printer by applying heat at two different temperatures. 

Read on to learn more about the applications of direct thermal printing.

Where to Use Direct Thermal Labels?

Direct thermal labels are mainly used in retail, shipping, pharmaceuticals, and food industry labeling applications. They are ideal for short- to medium-term labeling. 

Although their usage remains limited, they are bound to penetrate a wider range of industries due to continuous advancements in their technology.

Some other uses of direct thermal labels include:

  • Food packaging labels
  • Product barcodes
  • Receipts
  • Event tickets
  • Coupons
  • Restaurant labels
  • Tickets
  • GHS-compliant labels
  • Pharmacy labels
  • Shipping labels
  • Labels for perishable goods

Advantages of Direct Thermal Labels

There are many benefits of using direct thermal labels. For instance, they are more user-friendly and economical. 

Some other benefits of direct thermal labels:

  1. They’re more environmentally friendly as they don’t use ribbons, toner, or ink.
  2. They are more versatile as they can be used with mobile, desktop, and industrial computers.
  3. They’re more affordable as you can produce direct thermal labels in higher volumes on big sheets.
  4. They’re easier to maintain, replace, and work with.

Are Direct Thermal Labels Durable?

Direct thermal labels are ideal for short- to medium-term applications. These labels usually last between 6 to 9 months, depending on the surface environment. 

Since direct thermal labels are thermo-chromatic, they cannot be exposed to ultraviolet (UV) lights or heat for a very long time as it causes the print on them to fade.

Direct Thermal Labels vs. Thermal Transfer Labels: What to Choose?

If you are looking for labels for short-term to medium-term usage, direct thermal labels are ideal. But if you are looking for a label for long-term application, you should not opt for direct thermal labels as they fade over time. 

For long-term applications, thermal transfer labels are ideal. Thermal transfer labels use printer ribbons with heat to create the direct text or image. 

The ribbon is heated using the printer’s head, which causes the wax or resin layer on it to transfer and stick to the label. As a result, you get a durable and high-quality label that won’t fade even when exposed to heat or UV light. 


Now that you know what direct thermal printing is and what its applications are, we hope you can make an informed decision when choosing a label. 

4x6labels.com is a leading supplier of high-quality direct thermal and thermal transfer labels. We offer a wide variety of labeling products to meet a wide range of applications.

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